Adult Adoptees and U.S. Citizenship
This page provides information to foreign-born adults in the United States who were adopted as children and have questions about their U.S. citizenship. Adoptive parents can find information about obtaining and documenting citizenship for adopted children (under age 18) on the U.S. Citizenship for an Adopted Child webpage.
Adult adoptees include foreign-born individuals who are now 18 years of age or older and who, as children:
- Were adopted abroad and brought to the United States to live with their adoptive parents;
- Were brought to the United States to be adopted; or
- Entered the United States for a purpose other than adoption but were subsequently adopted in the United States.
If you are an adult adoptee, you might already be a U.S. citizen. You might have acquired citizenship when you met certain conditions related to your adoption and U.S. residency, or you might have become a citizen through naturalization. If you do not have U.S. citizenship documentation, that does not necessarily mean you are not a U.S. citizen. For additional information, see the USCIS Policy Manual, Volume 5, Part F, Citizenship for Adopted Children, USCIS Policy Manual, Volume 12, Part H, Children of U.S. Citizens and Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship.
Foreign-born adult adoptees who are not already U.S. citizens may still have a path to citizenship. You may be eligible to apply to become:
- A naturalized citizen; or
- A lawful permanent resident (LPR), which provides a path to becoming a naturalized citizen.
While this webpage focuses on adoption-based paths to citizenship, some adult adoptees may have other potential paths to citizenship. For more information on other paths, see the U.S. Citizenship and Citizenship though Naturalization webpages.
To determine if you are already a citizen or have a potential path to citizenship, you should review the information in the tabs below, eligibility information, and form instructions. USCIS offers resources to help you determine your immigration status, obtain proof of U.S. citizenship if you are a U.S. citizen, or find options if you are not a U.S. citizen. Our resources include information on finding legal services if you wish to consult with an immigration attorney.
There are many important reasons to consider applying for U.S. citizenship if you have not yet become a citizen. Citizenship offers new rights and privileges and comes with equally important responsibilities. For more information, see the considering citizenship webpage.
Adoptees may become U.S. citizens by:
- Acquiring U.S. citizenship after birth, before the age of 18, through a U.S. citizen adoptive parent; or
- Applying for naturalization after age 18.
Some adoptees may automatically acquire U.S. citizenship after birth and before age 18, if they meet certain conditions under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (codified at section 320 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)). Adoptees must satisfy the requirements of the act that apply to adopted children.
For purposes of this webpage, we use the term acquisition of citizenship to refer to the process by which an adoptee acquires U.S. citizenship after birth and before the age of 18, through a U.S. citizen adoptive parent.
Whether or not you acquired citizenship depends on your individual circumstances, such as:
- The law in effect while you were under the age of 18;
- Your adoptive parents’ U.S. immigration and citizenship status;
- Where and when your adoption was finalized; and
- Where you resided with your adoptive parents (in or outside of the United States).
The Child Citizenship Act of 2000
If you were born on or after Feb. 28, 1983, you may have automatically acquired citizenship under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (CCA). The CCA took effect on Feb. 27, 2001, and was not retroactive. It allows unmarried foreign-born children to become U.S. citizens by operation of law at the time they satisfy certain requirements, if they meet them on or after Feb. 27, 2001, and before turning 18.
For adoptees, these requirements include having:
- Had at least one adoptive parent who was a U.S. citizen (by birth or naturalization);
- Resided in the United States in the legal and physical custody of their U.S. citizen adoptive parents pursuant to a lawful admission for permanent residence; and
- Qualified as a child under INA 101(b)(1)(E), (F), or (G).
The chart below outlines the most common scenarios and summarizes when adoptees generally acquire citizenship based on those scenarios. In each case, you must meet all of the requirements outlined above.
|Generally, if you were under the age of 18 on Feb. 27, 2001, otherwise eligible and…||Then...|
|Your adoptive parents brought you to the United States with an IR-3 or IH-3 immigrant visa (your adoption was considered final before you came to the United States) and you were under the age of 18 on Feb. 27, 2001, (you were born after Feb. 27, 1983)||You acquired citizenship when you began residing with your U.S. citizen adoptive parents in the United States, after you were admitted as an LPR.|
|Your adoptive parents brought you to the United States with an IR-4 or IH-4 immigrant visa (you did not have a final adoption or your adoption was not considered final before you came to the United States)||
You acquired citizenship when your U.S. citizen adoptive parents finalized your adoption in the United States, or when your state of residence recognized the validity of the foreign adoption order (PDF).
|You qualified as an adopted child under the age of 16 who lived in the legal custody and joint residence of at least one U.S. citizen adoptive parent for at least two years||You acquired citizenship after you were lawfully admitted to the United States as an LPR to reside with your U.S. citizen adoptive parents.|
The point at which you acquire citizenship depends on several factors, including when and where your adoption was finalized. For more information, see our webpage on adoption-related immigrant visas.
Prior to the Child Citizenship Act of 2000
Although you do not qualify for automatic citizenship under INA 320 if you were at least 18 years of age on Feb. 27, 2001 (you were born on or before Feb. 27, 1983), you may have obtained citizenship under a different law if your adoptive parents were or became U.S. citizens. The law under which you may have acquired citizenship depends on which law was in effect while you were under the age of 18 and on your adoptive parents’ U.S. citizenship status.
If you did not acquire citizenship through your adoptive parents before turning 18, you may be eligible to apply for naturalization as an adult (see Other Paths to Citizenship below).
Citizenship and Naturalization Laws (Oct. 5, 1978 - Feb. 27, 2001)
Adoptive Parents Were U.S. Citizens at Time of Adoption
If your adoptive parents were U.S. citizens at the time of your adoption, there was no path for you to have automatically acquired citizenship through them. You may, however, have obtained citizenship through your U.S. citizen adoptive parent(s), if they applied for a Certificate of Citizenship on your behalf (under former INA 322). You must have met the requirements under the applicable law, had your application approved, and taken the Oath of Allegiance before reaching the age of 18 (unless waived).
Adoptive Parent(s) Naturalized Subsequent to Adoption
If your adoptive parents were not U.S. citizens at the time of your adoption, and subsequently became naturalized U.S. citizens before you turned 18, you may have automatically acquired citizenship. You must have met the requirements under the applicable law (generally former INA 320 or 321).
Citizenship and Naturalization Laws (Before Oct. 5, 1978)
Before Oct. 5, 1978, with very limited exceptions, there were no statutory provisions that provided for the automatic acquisition of citizenship by adopted children through their adoptive parents. You may, however, have obtained citizenship if your adoptive parents applied for naturalization on your behalf. You must have met the requirements under the applicable law (former INA 323), had your application approved, and taken the Oath of Allegiance before reaching the age of 18.
Other Paths to Citizenship
Some adoptees who did not acquire citizenship through their adoptive parents can obtain U.S. citizenship through other provisions.
Even if you did not acquire citizenship through your adoptive parents, you may be eligible to apply for naturalization. If you are an LPR, you may apply for naturalization once you are eligible. To apply for naturalization, you must file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.
For more information, see our Citizenship Through Naturalization webpage and the USCIS Policy Manual, Volume 12, Citizenship and Naturalization.
In addition, if you are serving or have served in the U.S. armed forces and are interested in becoming a U.S. citizen, you may be eligible to apply for naturalization under special provisions of the INA, which may not require lawful permanent residence. For more information, see our webpage on Naturalization through Military Service.
Step 1: The first step is to check to see if you have any of the following documents that serve as proof of U.S. citizenship:
- U.S. Certificate of Citizenship;
- U.S. Certificate of Naturalization; or
- Valid, unexpired U.S. passport.
These documents are proof of U.S. citizenship. If you do not have any of these three documents, move to Step 2.
Step 2: If you do not have proof of U.S. citizenship, you may want to gather your immigration records to help you understand your current U.S. immigration status. Your status may include any of the following:
- You are a U.S. citizen, but never obtained a certificate or passport as proof of your citizenship.
- You are a U.S. citizen and were issued a passport or certificate, but you do not have possession of it or your passport has expired.
- You are an LPR. Note that if you have a Permanent Resident Card (also known as a Green Card), this is evidence that you were admitted to the United States as an LPR. If you were admitted as an LPR, you may or may not be a U.S. citizen.
- You are not a U.S. citizen or an LPR.
If you do not have your immigration records in your possession, move to Step 3.
Step 3: If you do not have your immigration records in your possession and are not sure what your current U.S. immigration status is, you may file a Freedom of Information Act Request to obtain your immigration records.
USCIS Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Requests
You can make a Freedom of Information Act Request for a copy of your immigration case record. To receive a complete record, you should indicate on your request that you want “all my records” or “a complete copy of my A-file.” When submitting your FOIA request, you must submit your:
- Current name;
- Current address;
- Date of birth; and
- Country of birth.
To help us find your immigration record, please also provide (if known):
- Your Alien Registration Number (A-Number; for example, A123 456 789);
- All names you have used, including your birth name and your name when you entered the United States (if different);
- Date you entered the United States;
- Class of admission (for example, IR-2, IR-3, IR-4);
- Adoptive parents’ names; and
- Birth parents’ names.
In response to your FOIA request, we will send you copies of existing documents or records in our files (unless they fall under an exemption that prevents us from releasing them to protect interests such as personal privacy, national security, or law enforcement). We cannot create new records or conduct research, analyze data, or answer questions about your case when responding to your FOIA request. If you would like to file a FOIA request with us, please see our webpage on How to File a FOIA Request.
Department of State Freedom of Information Act Requests
You may also request any records that the Department of State (DOS) may have related to your case, such as those related to:
- The application for a visa for you to enter the United States; or
- Previous applications for U.S. passports.
If you would like to file a FOIA request with DOS, you may see their webpage on How to Make a FOIA Request.
If you wish to seek legal assistance to better understand your current immigration status, you may find additional information on our authorized legal help webpage.
For information on proof of citizenship, see our webpage on Proof of Citizenship for U.S. Citizens.
Your options to obtain proof of citizenship depend on your individual circumstances, preferences, and eligibility. You may choose to file with USCIS (if otherwise eligible) an application for a:
- Certificate of Citizenship; or
- Replacement Certificate of Citizenship or Naturalization.
|If you are a U.S. Citizen, and:||Then you may...|
Should have automatically received a Certificate of Citizenship but never did,
Note: USCIS began automatically issuing Certificates of Citizenship to certain adoptees on Jan. 1, 2004. You should have received a Certificate of Citizenship if you were admitted to the United States on an IR-3 visa (your adoption was finalized overseas) on or after Jan. 1, 2004, or if you were admitted on an IH-3 visa on or after April 1, 2008. If you came to the United States prior to Jan. 1, 2004, or on another visa type, we only issued you a Certificate of Citizenship if you applied for one (and were approved).
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to:
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
|Needed to submit an application if you wanted evidence of citizenship, but you or your parents never did, and you want evidence of citizenship||Choose to file a Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship|
|Previously received a Certificate of Citizenship or Naturalization||File a Form N-565, Application for Replacement Naturalization/Citizenship Document|
If you are eligible, you may also choose to apply to the U.S. Department of State for a U.S. passport as proof of U.S. citizenship.
If you are not a U.S. citizen but you are an LPR, you may apply to become a naturalized citizen once you are eligible. When you can apply for naturalization depends on your path to U.S. citizenship. Some people may be eligible for naturalization based on having had a Green Card for at least five years. Military members, spouses of U.S. citizens, and some other may be eligible to apply sooner. For information on paths to naturalization, see our webpage on Paths to U.S. Citizenship.
You can find information on general eligibility requirements for naturalization in the USCIS Policy Manual, Volume 12, Part D.
If you want to apply, you must file a Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. For more information, see our webpage on Citizenship through Naturalization and the USCIS Policy Manual, Volume 12, Citizenship and Naturalization.
This section focuses on the USCIS adjustment of status process while within the United States. If you decide to complete the process to apply for lawful permanent residence from outside of the United States, see the Consular Processing page.
Basis and Eligibility for Lawful Permanent Residency
You may be eligible for permanent resident status based on your adoption or through a basis other than your adoption. U.S. immigration laws include a variety of different immigrant categories that are eligible for permanent residency. The first step in obtaining permanent residence is to determine if you qualify for a specific immigrant category. Go to our Green Card Eligibility Categories page to see all the possible categories. Once you find an immigrant category that you might be able to use to obtain permanent residence, you can then go to the specific page that lists what the eligibility requirements are. The eligibility requirements for permanent residence vary depending on the immigrant Category under which you are applying.
If you have not yet obtained LPR or U.S. citizenship status, and you entered the United States before Jan. 1, 1972, you may be eligible to apply to USCIS to create a record of lawful admission and adjust your status to LPR through the registry process. For more information, see the USCIS Policy Manual, Volume 7, Part O, Chapter 4 – Foreign Nationals Who Entered the United States Prior to January 1, 1972.
Family Relationship as Basis for Permanent Residence
You may be eligible to have your U.S. citizen or LPR adoptive parents or U.S. citizen sibling file an immigrant visa petition for you. You may also have another qualifying family member, such as a U.S. citizen or LPR spouse or U.S. citizen child who can petition for you. For more information go to the Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative webpage.
Having a Form I-130 submitted on your behalf is the first step to getting a Green Card based on a qualifying family relationship. Generally, once we approve the Form I-130 petition, you may apply to become an LPR. This is the second step in the process. Certain relatives must wait until a visa number is available before they can apply to become an LPR. If you qualify as an immediate relative, an immigrant visa always is available.
While the table below focuses on eligibility to apply for LPR status based on an adoptive family relationship, you may have other qualifying family members (such as a U.S. citizen spouse) who can petition for you.
|If petitioning family member is an:||And you are...||Then you are eligible to apply for LPR status||When|
|Adoptive parent who is a U.S. citizen||Unmarried and under 21 years of age||Yes||At any time|
|Unmarried and 21 years of age or over||Yes||Once a visa becomes available|
|Married (and any age)||Yes||Once a visa becomes available|
|Adoptive parent who is a lawful permanent resident||Unmarried (and any age)||Yes||Once a visa becomes available|
|Adoptive sibling who is a U.S. citizen and age 21 or older||Married or unmarried (and any age)||Yes||Once a visa becomes available|
Adoptive sibling who is
|Any age or marital status||Not eligible||N/A|
There are numerous other Green Card eligibility categories, including, but not limited to:
- Green Card through employment;
- Green Card through refugee or asylee status;
- Green Card for human trafficking and certain crime victims;
- Green Card for victims of abuse; and
- Green Card through other categories.
Bars to Adjustment and Inadmissibility
Bars to Adjustment
Depending on how you entered the United States or if you committed a particular act or violation of immigration law, you may be barred from adjusting status. You are ineligible to apply for adjustment of status if one or more bars to adjustment listed in section 245(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) apply to you. However, you may be able to adjust status under INA section 245(i) even if you are subject to one or more adjustment bars and are therefore ineligible for adjustment of status under INA section 245(a). For more information, please see USCIS Policy Manual Volume 7, Adjustment of Status, Part B, 245(a) Adjustment and Part C, 245(i) Adjustment.
Grounds of Inadmissibility
To qualify for a Green Card, you must be admissible to the United States. Reasons you may be inadmissible are listed in INA 212 and are called grounds of inadmissibility. You may note that there are some exceptions for children and for adopted children. For example, there is an exception to inadmissibility for false claim to U.S. citizenship (such as voting) for certain children. If you are inadmissible, the law may allow you to apply for a waiver of inadmissibility or other form of relief. For information on the grounds of inadmissibility and waivers, please see USCIS Policy Manual Volume 8, Admissibility, and Volume 9, Waivers.
If you are admitted as a lawful permanent resident you may apply for naturalization once you are eligible to do so.
Naturalization through Military Service
If you are serving or have served in the U.S. armed forces and are interested in becoming a U.S. citizen, you may be eligible to apply for naturalization under special provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which may not require lawful permanent residence. For more information, see our webpage on Naturalization through Military Service.
We have policy guidance on citizenship for children of U.S. citizens (including adoptees) on our website. Please see:
- USCIS Policy Manual, Volume 12, Part H, Children of U.S. Citizens
- USCIS Policy Manual, Appendix: Derivative Citizenship of Children (Nationality Chart 3)
- USCIS Policy Manual, Volume 12, Citizenship and Naturalization
- Your New Child’s Immigrant Visa
- After Your Child Enters the United States
- U.S. Citizenship for an Adopted Child
- Citizenship Through Parents
Authorized Legal Help
See the authorized legal help webpage.